Looking back

Looking Back

Facebook's "memories" feature brought this FB post up from last year today, and I wanted to pin it down here. I'm not even going to edit it for context! :D

I'm trying this again because my attempt to be lazy by simply linking to Seppo's post backfired...

What have I been up to since end of April, when I left my well-loved job and team at Self Aware Games to search for the next step in my professional life?

First thing I focused on was trying to catch up a bit on the State of Technology (tm), as having my head down and pushing forward for the last five years meant that what was bleeding edge technology had become very... not. Heh. My personal focus when looking at the technology sphere was in figuring out what I could learn that would help my next company succeed. That meant I was looking at rapid prototyping languages (Swift, Processing) and cross-platform frameworks (Unity, Cocos), as well as modern, efficient ways to lay out a continuous integration/deployment pipeline, encompassing tools, workflows, and SaaS for deployment. I'm pretty psyched about the MEAN stack (see meanjs.org) + codeship.io + heroku right now, but I'm open to suggestions/feedback.

I also dabbled in a couple of interviews. I was incredibly lucky to land a couple of interviews with companies that I thought had a high chance of being a great match. I was very specific about locations I'd work (SF or Oakland -- being a parent for me means that I am willing to forego attractive options in Silicon Valley to stay close to home base); the stage of the company I wanted (early, bootstrapped or seed); and what industries I was not interested in (mostly, just not the ad space, with much apologies to some former colleagues). 

On that note, I've recommended them before, but I had a really great experience with hired.com. They found 7 great matches for me. I turned down the opportunity to talk to five of them (due to not quite matching the above requirements) and ended up talking to 2 even though they were both in later stages than I wanted, because I was so impressed by how the team came off on their websites. One in particular had a specific vision of how they were building and fostering their team which I admired. The other had a founder vision that was socially conscious in a direction that I was perfectly in line with.

The big revelation for me was that while I talked to these amazing companies, I couldn't let go of the feeling in the back of my mind that I wanted to do things differently -- not better, but differently from the way they were running things, and that thought wouldn't let me go. I was sure finding teams that were even closer matches than those I interviewed with was going to be incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

In the time that I'd been doing the tech research, I'd also been scarfing down a bunch of startup blogs, twitter streams, books, and videos. I'd been consuming massive amounts of the startup koolaid, and revisiting a lot of prior decisions I'd been party to, and wondering if there was not a better way. I always want to do better. I want to do better for my team, better for my community, better for my [fill in the blank], better for myself.

Up until about 3 months ago, I had spent all my life -- literally the entire life -- saying I'd never, ever run a business of my own. I recently said this on FB itself. The reason is that I've seen so many good people with dreams plummet to a scary place -- not just financially but emotionally. I've seen family, I've seen friends, I've seen relatives of friends, acquaintances from work, people of various backgrounds and industries get to a scary, desperate place and that was never for me. I fought all my life to get to financial stability, where I didn't go to sleep every night and wake up every morning wondering how we were going to make it. And now I have this wonderful little family that depends on me. 

Amazingly, where Seppo and I are at now means that if we front-load the risk, and we front-load the hard financial decisions, then we can protect the nest egg that keeps our family safe. We talked to a financial advisor and figured out ways to lock that down so that we never touch it in any sort of Hail Mary maneuver to try to stop any future ventures we engage in from having to shut down its doors.

Ironically, when we had talked to the FA about these plans, we both assumed that Seppo Helava would be the one that was going to do a startup and that I'd do something else more normal but in line with what I believe in, like working at an edutech or community-based startup. But talking to the FA and outlining our plans and seeing that it can be safe suddenly freed me up to dream BIGGER. What if I could start something? What if I was a part of the ground floor building a product and a team the "right way"? What if I could do this? Is it in me?

I thought about when I feel the most... alive, the most useful, the most excited about facing my days. Those times are when I am able to help people that I actually already care about become better versions of themselves. That's when I feel like I'm becoming a better version of myself as well. I want to build an excellent team, not just in service of "my" company or "my" product, but in service of _the team itself_. I want to help create a team that measures its success by how happy the team is -- revenue is in service of keeping the team employed. It sounds like a crazy, self-indulgent concept, but I want to invest in people, not in products. I want to create great, imaginative, creatively fulfilling, top-of-the-class products that we can all feel proud of building, but only because we can do it in a way that pays the bills to keep the team going.

I don't want to build a team to become rich. I hope people do become rich, but that's not the driver. I don't want to build a team in service of my product vision. I want to build a team that can go out and build other teams, in the leader-leader model that David Marquet discusses in his book.

And this led Seppo and me to talk about doing this together. Because we are as closely aligned as anyone we can imagine finding out there in terms of vision. We might differ on strategy and on product, but for the vision of what we want to build in a team, we are dead-on. And so this gives us the confidence to dare to dream and try giving this a shot. 

I am terrified and excited.

Next up... what the heck should we name ourselves? We have a couple of working names but we need to pin one down, only because we've been filling out profiles and submitting to conferences and such, and without a name, it's kind of hard to talk about ourselves. I'll post a poll later. 

Thanks for reading. TL;DR - We are doing a startup because we are insane.